Trump's treatment of women hits close to home

By JENNIFER MUIR BEUTHIN, Contributing Columnist

This week, the United States presidential discussion struck a particularly raw nerve here in Orange County.

Following a sexual harassment lawsuit filed by women at Fox News, Donald Trump said it was “very sad” the women complained against their boss and that if the same thing happened to his daughter Ivanka, he hopes she would just quit.

In the days following Trump’s response, some commentators (from across the political spectrum) piled on, suggesting that because the women who appear on Fox are “leggy” and beautiful, they should expect some level of harassment.

The commentators’ argument – and Trump’s argument – is essentially that women who are beautiful and wear skirts to work are inviting inappropriate comments and more. And if they don’t like how they’re being treated, they can move on. Or dress differently.

This is the type of wrong thinking that has perpetuated sexual assaults and harassment across our nation and the world, harassment that has particularly rocked our county workforce, and that I have personally experienced throughout my career.

First, the idea that the way a woman or man dresses somehow invites harassment is wrong for two reasons: The way we dress doesn’t invite or deter harassment at all. Harassment happens indiscriminately. And if wearing something more frumpy would make it stop, trust me, women across the county would line up to buy turtlenecks and mom jeans.

More importantly, talking about how the victim dresses or looks focuses responsibility on the wrong person. It is not the victim’s fault he or she was harassed. The blame lies squarely with the men (and women) who do the harassing.

Finally, most workers don’t have the luxury of just up and quitting their jobs when they face discrimination at the workplace. Too many are already struggling to make ends meet for their families as it is. So they endure.

In my first years working at the Orange County Employees Association, Santa Ana City Councilman Carlos Bustamante was accused of sexually assaulting and harassing several women who worked for him at the county of Orange, where he was an executive. Bustamante was a rising star in local Republican Party politics, and he made it clear to everyone who worked with him that he was connected and powerful.

When women came forward to report abuse – and thought their concerns would be taken seriously – they experienced how victims of harassment are too often treated when they stand up to those in power.

At the county, an internal investigation was botched – conducted by a subordinate of Bustamante. Results of another probe took far too long to reach the Orange County District Attorney’s Office – coming six months after Bustamante himself was allowed to quietly retire along with a 90-day salary severance. Ultimately, the district attorney brought charges of 12 felony sex crimes involving seven women against the former elected official. Eventually, Bustamante pleaded guilty to felony counts of stalking, attempted sexual battery by restraint and grand theft by false pretense, as well as misdemeanor counts of false imprisonment, assault and attempted sexual battery involving five women.

The victims in the Bustamante case were all attractive, smart women. None of them asked to be harassed or abused. They didn’t have the resources to simply leave their jobs or the power to stand up and fight when time after time their experiences were minimized or ignored.

None of this was their fault. And yet they had the courage to do what so many don’t or can’t. They stood up and spoke out for all of us.

Ivanka Trump has the resources and the leadership position to stand up to almost anyone. And I hope her father is right – that she would take a stand if she’s subjected to sexual harassment.

Yet, I also wonder whether she feels harassed when her dad makes comments about her body, her beauty or her sex life – comments that make so many of us uncomfortable when we read or hear them.

Or does she do what so many women do every day and simply endure, accepting that it’s just part of the job?

Jennifer Muir Beuthin is general manager of the Orange County Employees Association.

Publication Date: August 5, 2016